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The Spousal Liability Bruohaha. What’s the Real Story?

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Is your spouse covered in the event of an accident ?

From Jeff Ryan, owner of The Ryan Agencies

Several articles have shown up in newsfeeds about recent changes to New York’s Supplemental Spousal Liability Insurance Coverage. 

In our click-bait headline age, much of the media content speaks to this issue like it’s something new. It is not. Some stories suggest that customers have been charged significant premiums for spousal liability coverage. That is largely untrue. But what is the real story?

The History of Spousal Immunity:

Until 2002, New York personal auto policies specifically excluded liability coverage for spouses who sustained bodily injury caused by the opposite spouse as a negligent driver. 

New York courts held to the doctrine of spousal immunity for most of a century. This doctrine was based on the traditional belief that a man and a woman became one flesh upon marriage. Once married, there was a new legal entity. Consequently, wives could not enter into contracts or sue without the joinder of their husbands and vice versa. This legal concept supported the practice of insurance companies excluding coverage for spousal liability. 

The Removal of the Spousal Exclusion:

The subsequent addition of supplemental spousal liability coverage was brought about by numerous lawsuits where spouses were denied damages from auto policies caused by their married driver. Many law firms contested this position in court and lobbied for change. The New York legislature sought to remedy this situation by requiring insurers to provide legal remedies. 

The most significant change in interspousal liability came over twenty years ago, in 2002. That is when the New York legislature forever changed Section 3420(g) of the auto insurance law. Suits brought by a spouse against another spouse were no longer excluded by default. Chapter 584 of the Laws of 2002 required insurers to provide supplemental spousal liability coverage for the death of, or injuries to, a spouse.

So… two decades ago, liability coverage for spouses was made New York State law. Since then, New York auto insurance companies have been required to provide notification of the following:

  1. Supplementary Spousal Liability is available with an explanation and premium for the same.
  2. If there is a premium charge for this coverage, specific notice of the premium must read:
    1. “The additional premium for SSL coverage is $X.XX. If you do not elect to purchase this coverage and do not remit the additional premium, SSL coverage is not included in your auto policy.

What’s Next?

Here we are in 2023. And media companies of all stripes compete for your clicks with misleading headlines. Many sources would lead you to believe this is new in the auto insurance world. It isn’t.

Many companies are not charging to add Spousal Liability coverage, instead providing it without additional premium. Therefore those companies do not offer an opt-out alternative. For those that charge a premium and you wish to have it removed, we are glad to provide you with the form necessary to opt out of the coverage. It’s that simple. Consider our agency ready and willing to respond to your wishes according to how your insurance company responds to the recent legislation. 

Works Cited

NYS Dept of Financial Services. “Regulations – Insurance: Proposed 12th Amendment to Insurance Regulation 35-A (11NYCRR 60-1) – Minimum Provisions for Automobi.” DFS.NY.gov, https://www.dfs.ny.gov/industry_guidance/regulations/emergency_insurance/rp35-a_amend12_text. Accessed 16 August 2023.

NYS Dept of Financial Services. “Supplemental Spousal Liability Coverage Notice; Permissibility of Specifying Percentage in Lieu of Dollar Amount.” DFS.NY.gov, https://www.dfs.ny.gov/insurance/ogco2003/rg030703.htm. Accessed 16 August 2023.

Progressive Technology Federal Systems, Inc. “Annual Report of the Superintendent of Insurance to the New York Legislature Calendar Year 2002.” New York State Library Digital Collections, 4 June 2012, https://nysl.ptfs.com/data/Library1/06042012/44805.PDF. Accessed 17 August 2023.

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